All my childhood memories are going to be strangers

By Ryan S. Pugh

CLARION NEWS Sports

Editor

For the first time in a long time, I watched the majority of Major League Baseball's All-Star game on Tuesday night (July 9).

I was surprised I actually recognized around 50-percent of the All-Stars. I figured the total would be much lower.

Back when the All-Star game was appointment television for me, I was able to name every one of the all-stars without seeing or hearing their names. Now I'm lucky to know which team an All-Star plays for.

One of the reasons I don't get into the All-Star game anymore is because of interleague play. Before Major League Baseball introduced interleague play before the 1997 season, there was an air of mystery surrounding the All-Star game. I can remember in 1986 when the National League's New York Mets and the American League's Boston Red Sox were the two most dominant teams in baseball but since they wouldn't meet during the regular season, the All-Star game in Houston's Astrodome would be where we would get to see how the Mets' stars like Darryl Strawberry would fare against Boston's All-Star pitcher Roger Clemens.

I was so excited to watch that particular All-Star game, I planned my whole night around it (you'll have to excuse my lack of a social life, I was 12). I popped a bag of microwave popcorn to snack on (this was when microwave popcorn was the newest innovation) and cracked open a can of Coke and sat down to watch the game. The New York-Boston showdown proved to be sort of a dud. The excitement came in the later innings when the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela struck out five-straight batters to tie an All-Star Game record set by Carl Hubbell (at the time, I had no idea who Carl Hubbell was).

I lost a little bit of enthusiasm for the All-Star Game after the 1994 player's strike but interleague play just made the All-Star Game a "what's the point?" thought in my mind.

I noticed in last night's game, Fox (which has broadcast the All-Star Game for nearly 20 years) had play-by-play announcer Joe Buck doing interviews with players while they were on the field playing. I don't know if I like that idea or not. The one thing I am against in sporting event broadcasts is more talking. However, I thought to myself how fun it would have been to have stars of the past interviewed while they were on the field. I figure it would go a little something like this (with Howard Cosell asking the questions, of course).

Cosell: "Hey Mickey, you are coming off a triple crown season, what do you hope to do in 1957?"

Mantle: "Hey Howie, great question but more importantly check out the blonde in the third row."

I know that's kind of an unfair shot at Mickey Mantle so here is a more recent fictitious conversation.

Cosell: "Hey Pete thanks for coming on with us. What do you think your chances of breaking Ty Cobb's career hits record?"

Rose: "I'd say my odds are six-to-five and pick ‘em to get it done this year"

Hey, Pete admitted he bet on baseball so I feel gambling jokes aimed at Rose are fair game. All kidding aside, I believe Pete Rose deserves to be put in the Hall of Fame.

I think the microphones on the players will be cool until one of the players makes an inappropriate comment while not realizing the microphone is on and that will be that.

The biggest question for me coming out of this All-Star Game is how will Pittsburgh find a way to squander the momentum it seized heading into the All-Star break? Pittsburgh is two-and-a-half games out of first in the National League Central.

It seems every year the Pirates find a way to stumble out of the second half gate. Remember when Pittsburgh had its 98-win season in 2015? The Pirates were the hottest team in baseball coming into the All-Star break then got swept in Milwaukee in the series directly after the break and were never able to recapture their momentum as the Pirates finished in second place in the National League Central.

I'll feel better about Pittsburgh's chances if the Pirates can take two of three from the Cubs.

One thing I'm sure of when it comes to the upcoming series with Chicago is the Pirates and their coaching better have their fighting britches on.

If you remember, a couple of weeks ago, Chicago manager Joe Maddon wanted to fight someone in the Pirates dugout (I'm thinking it was Pirates' pitching coach Ray Searage) after Pittsburgh pitcher Jordan Lyles went a little high and tight a few too many times on Cubs' hitters. I'm guessing Maddon and his charges will be out for blood.

What I will be most excited to watch in the second half is the play of Pirates' first baseman Josh Bell. Bell has already hit 27 home runs this season which eclipses his career-high for a season.

Bell is on pace to hit over 40 home runs. If Bell does reach the 40 home run plateau, he would be the first Pirates' player to hit 40 dingers in a season since Willie Stargell hit 44 round-trippers in 1973. It blew my mind the first time I heard that a Pittsburgh baseball player hadn't hit 40 home runs in a season since before I was born (and I'm no spring chicken).

Another exciting player to watch is outfielder Bryan Reynolds. Reynolds entered the All-Star break with a .342 average for the season. Reynolds was called up from the minors in May.

The key to the Pirates' stretch run will be how the starting pitching holds up. The injury to Jameson Taillon and the regression of Chris Archer leaves Pittsburgh without a true No. 1 starter. Sure, the Pirates have been getting good starts from Joe Musgrove and Trevor Williams but how long will it last. I believe if Pittsburgh is serious about contending for a playoff spot this year, they will add a starting pitcher at the trade deadline. I don't think the Pirates' front office will make such a move.

I think Pirates' General Manager Neal Huntington is gun shy about making a trade at the deadline after last year's Archer deal. Huntington says he wants to "honor" this year's players by making a deal. Call me a skeptic but I just don't see it happening.

The one thing this year's Pirates' team has done has kept baseball on the minds of local fans this close to the opening of Steelers' training camp, so kudos.